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Creating a living, connected community of faith

From my first involvement with The Christian Chronicle, I have been concerned with vibrant, meaningful congregational life. Month after month, under the general theme of church growth, I wrote about successful churches. The recent series on “Churches That Work” has continued that thought.
As I have read, studied and contemplated successful church communities, I have seen patterns of activities that connect people together. Most require time, and so people of faith must make time for community.
Here are nine ideas to think about:
1. Pay attention to visitors. Church will seem more like home if you make it your responsibility to seek out people you don’t know. In large churches that may mean introducing yourself to someone who has been at the congregation longer than you have, but that is so much better than having people visit and never meet a single person.

2. Care for people facing tragedies. A few years ago, the daughter of a dear friend was killed in an accident while the family was out of town. When the family had been notified and came home, nearly a hundred people were on the front lawn waiting to show love and provide comfort. Caring for each other proves we have been with Jesus.
3. Support families during illness. A few years ago when my wife was having surgery to clear blockage in the carotid artery, more than 50 people joined my family to pray and wait for the procedure. Even when the surgery was delayed four hours, these people left and returned for the surgery. These people built lasting bonds with my family and each other.    
4. Form accountability groups. People seeking God need intimate relationships with other believers. In an always rushed world, people need others to whom they can confess and share struggles. These groups build bonds that help members deal with temptations, addictions, personal struggles and victories.
5. Lovingly share Jesus. Believers in Jesus as redeemer and savior freely share the joy of their faith and life in Jesus. Churches must stand out in their communities for their strong faith and their concern for sharing the story of Jesus. People are drawn to joyous believers who reach out to help and encourage without being judgmental.  
6. Send cards and/or make calls. When the people of a church show concern for each other, the church becomes connected and unified. Cards, now somewhat out of style, and phone calls allow a personal connection that encourages and inspires. Some newspaper readers clip stories about the people they go to church with: Those clippings with a note of congratulations and encouragement show love and concern. Quiet acknowledgement of need or achievement bonds people, making the journey to heaven more joyous.
7. Make friends outside your age group. Most churches are organized around age demographics. That is comfortable for most, but it may not be productive in the long run. Newlyweds need friends who have been down the road for several years to help them gain perspective about the challenges. Young families need surrogate grandparents to love their children and provide intergenerational connections. Older families need the encouragement and enthusiasm of younger people.  
8. Serve in groups. People volunteering together change their relationship. Those amazing retired people who band together and travel to different places to repair and restore church buildings, homes of the elderly and properties of widows build bonds not diminished by space and distance. Youth groups share mission trips to Mexico or areas with small churches; they go to summer camp together; they have lock-ins for fun and prayer; they serve inner-city groups; they become close friends who encourage and support each other.
9. Love each other. Jesus said his disciples will stand out in a community because they love each other. With our hectic, impersonal society, people loving each other is a rarity. Love is the essential quality of God, and we as disciples are being transformed into loving people who care deeply for each other. That love compels us to reach out to other believers to know them and understand them. That love becomes evidence that we are children of God.

Filed under: Insight

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